In a proud moment for the country, two Indians have joined the list of this year’s Ramon Magsaysay award winners. To the uninitiated, this is an annual prize given to those who have displayed integrity in governance, courageous service to the people, and pragmatic idealism to further the cause of democracy. In some circles, this award is also known as the Asian version of the Nobel Peace Prize.
The two Indians who will receive the award at this year’s ceremony in Manila on August 31 are Dr Bharat Vatwani and Sonam Wangchuk. Dr Vatwani’s organisation has rescued, treated, fed and reunited thousands of mentally-ill citizens living on the streets with their families.
Sonam Wangchuk, meanwhile, is an engineer-cum-social activist who has done extensive work in the field of education, environment, community development and environmental protection for the people Ladakh.
Dr Vatwani and his wife established the Shraddha Rehabilitation Foundation in 1988 for mentally-ill citizens living in the streets. Assisted by the police, social workers and referrals from other doctors, the Shraddha Foundation has provided free medical treatment and shelter for these vulnerable citizens.
Sonam Wangchuk, meanwhile, was responsible for revolutionising education in Ladakh through his Students’ Education and Cultural Movement of Ladakh (SECMOL), which he founded in 1988.
Until the mid-90s, nearly 95% of the students would fail their class X examinations. Through Operation New Hope, which was a collaborative effort by the State government, village communities and civil society to reform the government school system in Ladakh in 1994, SECMOL instigated the process of reformulating the curriculum and retraining teachers.
Besides, he also recently developed the unique ice stupa to offset the water shortage Ladakh’s cold deserts have suffered as a result of global warming.
Past Indian winners of the award include Acharya Vinoba Bhave, Jaya Prakash Narayan, Arvind Kejriwal and Mother Teresa.
Besides Dr Vatwani and Sonam Wangchuk, the other winner of this year’s Ramon Magsaysay award include a Cambodian genocide survivor who documented the atrocities committed by the evil Khmer Rouge regime, a Filipino pacifist who led peace talks with communist insurgents, a Vietnamese activist who was afflicted by polio but fought discrimination and an East Timorese activist who assisted poor citizens suffering under the country’s civil war.